When MEPs heckle, jeer and walk out

“The present decision making system of the European Union is different from a classic parliamentary democracy, tested and proven by history. In a normal parliamentary system, part of the MPs support the government and part support the opposition. In the European parliament, this arrangement has been missing.”

So said Václav Klaus in his speech to the European Parliament on Thursday. Some MEPs responded by jeering and heckling, notwithstanding that Mr Klaus is a head of state and that the Czech Republic currently holds the presidency of the European Union. What really upset the protestors was this sentence: “Here, only one single alternative is being promoted and those who dare thinking about a different option are labelled as enemies of the European integration.” And here’s how some of our MEPs responded:

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Daniel Hannan MEP had this to say on what happened (and didn’t happen) on Thursday. But let’s return to the Klaus speech that so many found so offensive. Consider this:

“Not so long ago, in our part of Europe we lived in a political system that permitted no alternatives and therefore also no parliamentary opposition. It was through this experience that we learned the bitter lesson that with no opposition, there is no freedom. That is why political alternatives must exist.

And not only that. The relationship between a citizen of one or another member state and a representative of the Union is not a standard relationship between a voter and a politician, representing him or her. There is also a great distance (not only in a geographical sense) between citizens and Union representatives, which is much greater than it is the case inside the member countries. This distance is often described as the democratic deficit, the loss of democratic accountability, the decision making of the unelected — but selected — ones, as bureaucratisation of decision making etc. The proposals to change the current state of affairs — included in the rejected European Constitution or in the not much different Lisbon Treaty — would make this defect even worse.

Since there is no European demos — and no European nation — this defect cannot be solved by strengthening the role of the European parliament either.”

Do you find this dishonest, false or untrue? Isn’t Kaus correct when he says that there is no European demos? Whether one can be established by jeering the messenger in February is surely questionable.

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10 Responses to “When MEPs heckle, jeer and walk out”

  1. I think it would be fairer to say that a European Demos is slowly beginning to emerge. After all, direct elections to the European parliament have only been held since 1979. 30 years is not a long time in the development of European history.

    The real question is whether, in criticising the European Parliament, Mr. Klaus is trying to strengthen or weaken it. The context of his remarks would suggest the latter.

    If the Czech Republic doesn’t want to be part of an emerging European Union, that’s fine. They shouldn’t have joined in the first place. Seeking to weaken an organisation you have only just joined is the height of discourtesy. The MEPs were right to walk out.

    What a pity the country of Dubček and Václav Havel has sunk so low as to appoint a a minor demagogue President of the European Council.

  2. Bogdan says:

    True or untrue, what the MEPs did in contrast to the way they punished other MEPs when they protested the Lisbon Treaty is so … clear of a message about the manner of things in the EP that nothing needs to be said. It’s sad things always get to this point of establishment, be it good or bad, but always acting like this.

  3. Bogdan says:

    @ Frank

    Way to go: “if you have any criticism, you can get out”. This kind of commenatry is the core of the problem right now with the European Parliament especially. No acceptance of a true debate, no chance for a real compromise. How can people like Klaus ever accept to be a real part of the EU if you dismiss them like this?

  4. If Europhile MEPs expect Nationalists to engage with the EP then they too must engage with it, regardless of what they are hearing. To walk out whilst the head of the state that currently holds the EU presidency is speaking is to thumb your nose at democracy, and at the people of all Europe’s nations. This unfortunate behaviour gives ammunition to those who see the EU as undemocratic.

  5. Hi Bogdan,

    People are free to criticise the European Parliament and do so all the time. However Václav Klaus doesn’t seem to observe the basic courtesies of collegiality within the European Union. He insulted his Irish hosts when in Ireland and then insulted the European Parliamentarians when in Brussels.

    The whole point of nationalism is that it doesn’t want to be part of a larger supranational entity. That is a valid political position to take, but it begs the question of why you joined the European Union in the first place.

    The EU is not some club you can join for the economic or security benefits, and then snub when it comes to the political obligations you have taken on as part of your accession Treaty.

    Part of Václav Klaus’ role as President of the EU Council is to promote closer cooperation between the Member states and the joint development of policies in the EU Council and Parliament. This he has conspicuously failed to to.

    EU Parliamentarians are elected as well, and it is within their democratic rights to protest in this way. I’m sure they will respond more positively if Václav Klaus has some more positive contribution to make, but the EU is about contributing as well as criticising, and so far there has been very little by way of positive contribution from the the Czech presidency.

  6. Bogdan says:

    Dear Frank,

    Klaus is not obliged to subscribe to any clear current no matter his role. That is, as long as he is respecting the principles of the Union, the decrees of the Council etc. Last I checked there is no infringement procedure to be started against a country if its leader simply asks some bothersome questions, and makes some criticism.

    Klaus is not the best of leaders if one looks at his track record. Corruption, hypocrisy, stubborness etc. But he is a president and he has the right to be respected in that quality. When Eurosceptic MEPs acted the way Euro-MEPs did on Thursday, they were blasted to pieces by comments, even fined.

    Is this not a double standard then? Does this not send a counter-debate message?

    As for your argument “The EU is not some club you can join for the economic or security benefits, and then snub when it comes to the political obligations you have taken on as part of your accession Treaty.”

    This is a radicalization of a principle that you fall to defensively. It is up to the ECJ to say when a country failed to fulfill its responsabilities, and not to a few unpolite MEPs.

    True, the eurosceptics might throw around half-truths at times, or worse, stir up unreasonable fears. But so far I see too much of the same from the other side as an answer. How do you expect me to support an European process that is driven by this kind of people?

  7. Bogdan says:

    PS:

    It’s very rude to say so far there has been little positive contribution from the Czech. Watch the news, their press releases. Their whole government is working in overtime, having people in all the intitutions, making declarations, making quite a lot of contributions. It’s unfair to snuff all that out.

  8. Dear bogdan,

    The EU is currently going through perhaps the greatest crisis since its foundation. Even Sarkozy was criticised for not doing enough to create a united European response to the economic crisis. But seriously, what has Klaus done? Can you give some examples of major initiatives to counter the crisis that he has spearheaded?

    The EU is above all a political project, and relies on the President of the Council to provide leadership and direction. My understanding is that the other Member states are counting the days for the Czech Presidency to end because they can see no prospect of any positive leadership emerging under Mr. Klaus.

    It may seem impolite to say this too publicly, however even diplomats are saying this openly. But plain speaking is part of being part of an emerging EU polity and demos. Mr. Klaus is simply not up to the job, and trying to tear down what has been achieved by others does not hide the fact that he has nothing positive to contribute himself.

    The Czech republic will find it has few friends when it comes to the tough negotiations on future budgets and policies. For many years Ireland made a huge contribution (Our last Presidency coincided with enlargement, achieved agreement on the Constitution, agreement on the President of the Commission, and greatly improved relations with the US after the Iraq war debacle).

    However we have now also badly damaged our credibility because of the poor Lisbon campaign and our negotiating leverage in the EU is now much less. Having a good reputation, good relationships with other members, and making a positive contribution matters when you need allies on some tricky negotiation. It looks like the Czech Republic will learn this the hard way.

  9. I agree with you, Frank. Mr. Klaus is a bad diplomat and most probably his country will get sanctioned for it. Furthermore, what I totally disagree when it comes to critical positions like Mr. Klaus’ is that they don’t really offer concrete solutions to the crisis. Critics are just “against”, but they don’t offer real solutions to replace the current establishment.

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